Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, dear members of the WCC central committee!
Peace be with you from God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, our Creator, Reconciler and Lifegiver! Amen.
I thank the moderator, Dr Agnes Abuom, and the acting general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, for inviting me to address you at this profound moment, at the opening prayer of this meeting of the central committee in 2021.
You come together reading from the Holy Scripture the words of 2 Cor 5:11-21, and under the theme of the upcoming 11th Assembly of the WCC: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”.
Something has moved the world. It has not only moved the world, but changed the world significantly since the central committee met last time in 2018. Then we celebrated and marked the first 70 years of the World Council of Churches together. We did so acknowledging that the ministry of the WCC has always been to address what is challenging, even wrong, sinful and unjust. The call we share is not to polish the surface, but to be honest – and hopeful that change is possible.
This “something” this time is a virus. It is, however, much more than the virus. It is all the effects of a pandemic on health, on economy, on increasing injustices and poverty, on separation and isolation; it affects our lives as individuals and our lives together.
Today you come together as the central committee online to address the effects of this global crisis for the work of the ecumenical movement and the WCC as an organisation, and to discern how to take the next steps together.
Together we mourn with our member churches who have lost significant numbers of their members and many leaders. Some of you have lost your colleagues, friends and family members. We have lost members of the central committee and other co-workers in the ecumenical movement.
Many of you live in contexts where the conditions have become significantly worse. People all over the world are waiting for a fair and effective production and distribution of vaccines.
The second letter to the Church in Corinth from the Apostle Paul is written to comfort the local church, giving thanks to “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who comfort us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1:3 f).
“So we do not lose heart” (4:16) - “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (5:7). That is the reason why we as well can and should in times like these have a theme for our next Assembly like we have decided: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”. We believe – even if we do not see it every day or everywhere - that Christ’s love moves the world.
The way forward we find by believing more than what we see.
The Biblical context of the theme for the Assembly reminds us why there is a call to reconciliation and unity. It is not for the sake of keeping church diplomacy or any other decent multilateral work going and busy, but because the world is like it is and because the churches are having the needs they have. To work is to be “ambassadors for Christ”. On behalf of Christ. Because the world need what Christ gives: Reconciliation with God. Nothing less.
Your work is a holy calling to show how God in Jesus Christ has made a difference and reconciled the world with God. Therefore, God can through Christ create a chain of comforting, of bringing something else and something really new into the world – through the fellowship of the Church. This is a fellowship that is connected through the love of Christ, and therefore can be so much more than what we are by ourselves. Therefore, the Church needs to be moved by, even controlled by and compelled by Christ’s love.
The need for multilateral, faith based, justice-seeking and hope-creating work is even greater than before. It happens through people that are not perfect, but who are keeping “this treasure in earthen vessels” (4:7). So it always was in the 72 years of work as WCC, and so it is today.
Let me take this opportunity to express my thanks - and even admiration - to the leadership and all the colleagues in the WCC for your resilience in the ministry for the WCC and continuing the holy call of the ecumenical movement in this very critical time. You continue to share the love of Christ through your work and your communication in many new forms. The ministry of reconciliation bringing justice and righteousness has not become obsolete, it has not been terminated, it has not lost its urgency. It is more needed than ever.
As there has been no opportunity to report back to you from the work of the last period of my tenure, neither to share my reflections after more than 10 years of service as GS, I value this special invitation to address you today.
We all need an ecumenical movement of love. We all need the comfort of God through one another. I also know from those more than ten years that we all need the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation and the righteousness that is given in Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection.
I thank you for the richness of relationships and experiences of Christ’s love you gave to me and my family during my time as general secretary. I thank you for the many encounters, meetings and visits that brought me into the reality of your lives, your struggles, and your remarkable and inspired ministry of reconciliation in your many contexts. I thank you for the friendship and collegiality. I thank you for the many expressions of belonging together, in mutual accountability to one another. I thank you for having the honour of representing this fellowship in a world in need of love, in deep and urgent need of reconciliation and unity.
May God, who gave us the ministry of reconciliation, continue to comfort you and give you the courage and wisdom to fulfil your calling.